The support of an ever-changing team of volunteers helps parkrun take place at over 1,300 locations around the world each week. Some find volunteering so rewarding that they mostly volunteer and rarely walk or run. We checked in with Blake Kennedy, volunteer photographer at Renton parkrun near Seattle, to find out about his volunteering experience, and how his pictures tell the story of a growing parkrun community.
[Kortney Thoma, Renton parkrun co-Event Director] Hi Blake! I wanted to talk with you because you have exclusively (or almost exclusively) participated in parkrun as a volunteer. Can you tell me a little about that?
[Blake] Mostly I wanted to support getting parkrun off the ground because I believe it’s a great thing for the community. For me, I have a knee replacement so I can’t run for time; I get my exercise during the week by walking the dog. I did tailwalker once during a trial event (pre-launch) and it went fine, but one time I tried to do it with the dog and he wasn’t up for it. For me, I get enjoyment at parkrun from seeing the community come together and all of the fun people are having while doing something that’s good for them.
Usually we see you at parkrun as our event photographer. Something unique about this volunteer role is that your job is to literally observe and document parkrun events. How do you go about telling the parkrun story?
There are three types of photos that I like: first, the ones where there are close-ups of people with their friends before or after the event. I love taking these photos because everyone is smiling and hopefully they use that photo as a memento of their experience and share it with their friends.
You mean like a gift!
Yes! Second, I like the telephoto images of runners further down the path, before they approach the finish line because once they get there, they kind of let up and smile a bit. When you get them at a telephoto length they often aren’t aware of the photographer so you can capture some of the emotion and physical exertion that the it takes to run 5k. Last weekend there was a guy from Portland who was really giving it all he had and that was a fun photo.
The third is a nice telephoto with good bokeh in the background. Okay there’s a fourth: I also really love the dogs. In fact I think the dogs are a big piece of the parkrun story because lots of people love to attend with them.
Are there any magic moments or stories from parkrun that you’d like to share?
On occasion I’ve been able to help sort out any questions we’ve had about finisher numbers. It’s been good to help with that. One week at breakfast I mentioned that I didn’t think it was important to get the finisher photo of each person but I was glad I did the following week! We ended up losing all of the timing data but the photos and their timestamps helped save the day.
Do you think you’re developing your own style as a photographer?
I hope I’m developing my own style! I’d like to think I’m doing that but I’m also trying to mix it up. There’s infinite ways you can photograph events. I like to move around a little bit more earlier in the run to get some other scenery for people who can’t make it to our event. That’s why I always try to include some scenery shots. If you’re in Calgary, you might want to get a feel for what our environment is like out here.
We’ve had other photographers at Renton too including Sierra Nolten, a young parkrunner who recently volunteered and will be photographer again this coming weekend. Has seeing other photographers’ work given you ideas?
I’ve looked around a bit to see what other people do like the official parkrun photographer in the UK [Ed: Bruce Li’s parkrun photo albums are an inspiration to any budding parkrun photographer], and I noticed that he’s tried to get some different angles like closer to the ground with dogs which I’ve since tried. I’m always looking to see how others frame photos, like do you get runners from the torso up or do you try to get their feet? I’ve read some stuff that says don’t worry about including feet but I personally like them in photos of runners.
I try not to sign up for photographer 6 weeks in a row in case someone else wants to do the role. If no one else is signed up and I have the time, then I’m happy to do it. I certainly look at the photos that other people take at our event because they are working with the same pallet and might have a different take. I always like the added-on shots from the marshals because they get different angles and perspectives.
Are there any other volunteer roles you would like to try?
I was timekeeper once and that worked out fine, but I wouldn’t mind being marshal sometime. I did tail walker for one of the trial runs; I’m not interested in being director because it looks like lots of work and communicating. I’d do the scanning; that would be fun. Most of them would actually be pretty fun except run director! [Laughing] I think we’ve had really good run directors, even those who’ve only done it once; the briefing for this role must be really good!
[Both laughing] Thanks, Blake! We try to make it as easy as possible! You know that this means we’ll now have to make you run director someday! [More laughing]
Oh I suppose it’s inevitable!
I’m just kidding! We won’t make you ever do a role that you don’t want to do. So, what would you say to someone who hasn’t volunteered at parkrun yet?
I’d tell them to give it a try and that it’s a really satisfying experience to help out. None of the jobs are overly taxing and you need to keep in mind that the volunteers keep parkrun going every week. You need runners, walkers and volunteers to have a parkrun. Everyone is happy that they volunteered and it feels good to give back. I’d say, “Get off the fence and give it a try! Plus it’s a way to participate in the event and not have to run 3.1 miles!”
[Both laughing] Is there anything else you’d like to say about your experience at parkrun?
It’s been a lot of fun; I’m enjoying it and hopefully other people are too. I’m so happy to see it’s growing and it will likely get bigger with better weather. It’s really fun to see folks like those from Portland coming up to try out Renton and then going home to get one going in their city. We’ve kind of planted the flag for the northwest and it’s cool to see it take off. I love that we’ve got people moving and for free – you can’t beat it.
Thanks so much for your time, Blake!
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